Tesla the film, 'Luminous' in the eyes of Borisa Simovic, Producer Director
Cebas has had the pleasure of catching up with the film making community in Belgrade. There will be two Interviews for the awesome Luminous film project about Nikola Tesla. The Interviews are with Borisa Simovic, the producer and director and Marko Milasinovic, the FX Lead. Please refer link.
Cebas: Borisa Simovic, firstly, Thank-you and Welcome to cebas Insights Interview. We first heard about your latest film project, a story of Tesla, when Marko Milasinovic posted one of the RnD visual effects scenes he created in the cebas facebook user group and received good comments.
Borisa Simovic: Thank-you for the opportunity to present the 'Luminous' project.
Cebas: the vfx community and followers would love to know more about you as a person and as a film producer/director in Belgrade - do fill everyone with some interesting anecdotes about your career and journey?
Borisa Simovic: I have a standard film education. I studied film directing and screenwriting. However, that is less important. I find it much more important that the film has always helped me grow as a person. Film was there as a solution when I felt threatened as an adolescent. As a young person, I was almost ruined by a bad crowd, drugs and crime. The love for film making pulled me off the streets and helped me make sense of my life. Therefore, film making allows me to express myself and exists, a form through which I felt reborn.
It didn't happen by accident, my grandfather owned a movie theater, so there is a long tradition in my family of learning about life through movies. After studying, besides directing, I started to improve myself in the field of visual effects. In this sense, I’ve began to evolve my ability to develop projects. My film education and the ability to read the script in the right way have been of great help to me. I have always tried to offer directors the enhancement of their visions. Most of them appreciated it and so I progressed in business.
Cebas: Tesla was a Serbian-American and he was incredibly smart, before his time, why do you feel a film about him is timely now?
Borisa Simovic: Tesla was an absolute genius who had noble ideas for humanity. He put his talents in the service of humankind, and rejected his self-interest altogether. He was long considered a loser who could ahve enriched himself, but that he had missed that chance. This is testament of the ignorance we had long lived in as a civilization. It is only now, since the expansion of wireless technology (and it is Tesla who gave this discovery to humanity) that the true greatness of this extraordinary mind began to be understood. At the end of the 19th century, he was talking about sending a thought in a second to the other end of the planet. Tesla is becoming increasingly important nowadays. Only the next generations will realize that he is a leading scientist because only a few of his patents have been realized so far. We need to develop further to understand and be able to interpret all that he has to offer. Tesla was dealing with what we today called, "a nonphysical science". To simplify, this means that scientific discovery comes by opening inner channels to spirituality. This is exactly how Tesla came to his discoveries. Therefore, this is the dawn of Tesla's age.
Only now, 100 years later, civilization has slowly and sluggishly began to decipher his science. His mind, incomprehensible to the common man, was not only a mind of a scientist, but also one of a great inventor. He spoke of himself as the conduit of information from a "higher power", insufficiently clear to himself, but still visible.
Cebas: and from your film script - thank you for sharing this - it was absolutely interesting to read your synopsis. It was very engaging. How much would you say the characterizing of Tesla in your movie is based on fact and how much on fiction?
Borisa Simovic: this story is a fictional representation of actual events. Following a historical figure - Nikola Tesla, and some of the biographical events of his life that occurred circa 1900 in Colorado Springs. All the remaining events and characters are dramatized in order to bring closer to us one of the most fascinating figures in modern history and sublimate his story in the form of fiction. While setting up the film story about Mr. Tesla, I went from the fact that all of his biographers have come to a point that they could not cross, and I wanted to present it differently. You see, the biography of Nikola Tesla is historically clear and there are already a number of documentaries and feature films that are made with the idea to bring his life closer to viewers. But at a certain point, however, all those projects faced an obstacle that is insurmountable so Tesla remains an unfinished character. It is my deep belief that imagination is required to complete Who-is-Tesla? The real him, so to remain true to not just a film character, but also his dreams and his visions.
In an attempt to explain the origin of the universe, Tesla himself said that: "Everything has been created with the help of imagination". It is clear that we are dealing with a remarkable person who was not only a scientist or an inventor, but a man with a very rich inner world whom, with the help of mind-bending images that occurred to him, was able to discover functional formulas which later enabled successful and revolutionary experiments.
Cebas: and from what I read - your cinematography: using both historical scenes/landscapes and that of the inner world, will this be something like Avant Garde in film making or is there a genre or tradition that you are following?
Borisa Simovic: it is impossible to ignore fiction in order to find the answer to the question "Who is Tesla? ". How do we reinforce the fact that this great man invented the wheel for AC power, wireless technology, laid the foundation for the Internet and cellular phone technology at the mere beginning of the 20th century? Which are precisely the core inventions that shape today's world. This is certainly a character "larger than life", and should be treated as such. He had a powerful insight into the future as we know it today, even in the 19th century and his discoveries offered humanity an entirely possible and reachable paradigm shift into a far simpler, less destructive and more advanced direction.
Cebas: you would need then a lot of visual effects and green screen in this movie for amazing imageries?
Borisa Simovic: yes, there are going to be many. Only a few scenes are going to be without VFX. Since this movie is not a biopic dpcumentary, but a story to convey to audiences who-is-Tesla, with the help of fantasy. In some sense, the storytelling of Tesle requires visual effects and a sci-fi treatment. Visual effects is the tool, where parts of the movie has to dwell into and show the inner worlds of Tesla, and this cannot be done without visual effects.
This is the story of a scientist who had the noble idea of lighting the planet with free energy, and the film requires visual authenticity of the times and originality. We decided immediately that we don’t want the visual effects to develop into another cliché that we have seen too many times before. Therefore, we have found inspiration from the richness of classical films. For resources, we turned to the older genres that remain seductive in 2019 even though they are decades old. We discussed, for example, what would Akira Kurosawa do today if he had all the digital tools that we have at our disposal.
Cebas: Borisa, do you see yourself as a traditional film director or Avant Garde - unorthodox?
Borisa Simovic: you always need to refer back to film history and art history in general to create something new. Since I have worked with visual effects and have had a very relaxed communication and collaboration with many VFX artists, these new stylized film workers, I realize that I am tasked with finding a new language for films in my country. The new movie language is impossible to feel unless you look back and look at all those wonderful examples from reputable films of the past decades. To simplify, this is something that derives from a traditional approach with large strides into something more unique.
Cebas: a lot of our community friends and acquaintances are those creative in the art of V/FX and they would love to know how you envisage using visual effects, in what way..what kind of scenes...to tell and enhance the Tesla’s story?
Borisa Simovic: sure,... the film has two parallel stories: one is set in a real world filled with people surrounding Nikola Tesla, and the other is his inner world filled with beings of more cosmic intelligence. To do this we use all the techniques, of course, at our disposal, looking to simplify as much as possible because the most expensive solutions are not always the best. For example, for real workflow purposes, filming is planned in Serbia, but background plates will be shot in Utah and Colorado.
And for Tesla's internal dimension, it is planned to create 2D and 3D matte painting, there will be plenty of green scenes and a few scenes in full CG. We are starting with what is needed for the story. When you introduce artists to the story and the idea behind each scene, you will open up the opportunity for them to make a real creative contributions. I have met with many artists working as a VFX supervisor. I realized a long time ago that you lose their highest value — their talent if you put them in a situation of being just executors of a job. They are an extremely sensitive category of people and they are not in this business simply because they are technically skilled, they have their own visions and should be given space to get them out. Only then can a true, authentic creative result be established. I am at an age where I have personally known many outstanding artists with whom I have had refined, open and reciprocal relationships and I feel lifted and enlivened because of it. I do not worry about how we’ll get quality results, all the tools are available.
Cebas: Borisa, with visual effects instead of depending solely on live action takes - does this help in budgeting for Indie movies?
Borisa Simovic: yes, drastically. I do not even have a clear idea about what would happen if there were no VFX. I have never thought to performed without such calculations. It seems to me that without VFX this project wouldn’t exist.
* Accompanying this Interview, please see Marko Milasinovic's cebas Interview. Marko will be doing the visual effects for Luminous. *
Cebas: do you find that funding is easy or hard for historical dramas?
Borisa Simovic: this screenplay has extremely good reviews by local authorities, which is why it won financial support from the Republic of Serbia in the national competition. Shortly afterwards, private investors from the US and the Netherlands also joined in. The fundraising process is tedious and long but inevitable. That part has just ended and the most beautiful part, the realization of the movie, is now started.
I think this fantastic western drama must be exempted from the rules of how other period films are budgeted. This is not a classic approach to the story and therefore there can be no known financing system. As I see it, in the film industry of the West, all producers ask the same question: what existing genre or trends does your film follows..? For fear of financial risk, everyone accesses copy & paste solutions. But such solutions are increasingly failing. The audience is increasingly looking for a new expression and new approach. Fortunately, my financiers understand this and trust me.
Cebas: Borisa, what role will Marko Milovanovic be playing? And has visual effects or some of the previz, post-production started?
Borisa Simovic: I met Marko on an earlier project and immediately noticed that he is an artist driven by ideas, that he is not limited by software and workflow. When presented with a vision, he does not follow it literally, but enters into the essence of the story and deepens it. All of his suggestions are an upgrade, sometimes so distinct that have, in certain cases, resulted in me changing the script.
Nikola Tesla as many people know is seen as the wizard of magnetic coils and lightning effects, similar in this story setting. It was of great importance to me to find an artist who would understand that in this movie and 'lightning' appears symbolical to the Tesla character*, in some way as living beings. Marko immediately understood this and my confidence in him was fully formed. His level of creativity exceeds my work standards. He is above software and he never sees it as an obstacle but the tool only as a loyal assistant. When he presented me with his vision of the ‘forest wildfire’ created with thinkingParticles, I knew that my vision was taking visual form.
(note: * (Nikola Tesla) was known to have conducted experiments with a large coil operating in the megavolts range, producing artificial lightning (and thunder) consisting of millions of volts and discharges of up to 135 feet (41 m) in length,... see Wikipedia.)
Cebas: could you give us a little bit more insight on some of the favorite shots that are fascinating in this movie?
Borisa Simovic: there is a very challenging scene that will last for 15 minutes, where parallel worlds are interwoven. We are just working out the details and I can say that it is more exciting and challenging than anything else in this project. Lots of VFX, many extras, actors, and even horses - all imbued with a sense of otherworldliness. Every detail is worked out with the VFX/CG artists who position the actors in a manner they think best for the storytelling. I am very pleased to sort of reverse the film-making process and prioritize this part of the work that has traditionally been considered as primarily, "post-production".
Cebas: okay and when can we get to see a trailer? Will the movie be distributed in North America as well?
Borisa Simovic: filming starts in the summer of 2020, the trailer will come out in the fall hopefully. I deeply believe that it will be distributed in North America.
Cebas: Thank you so much, Borisa Simovic, for giving us a glimpse into the world of Nikola Tesla, as a producer. We wish you and Marko Milasinovic smooth sailing for this project to the finished line!
'Echo' short animated film trailer (2018):
'While they were flying to the moon' trailer (2015)